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Slow White: An Ultimate Fairytale

By: Amy Broome

With just three losses in the 2016 regular season and series combined, Boston Slow White was poised as one of the year’s winningest teams coming into the National Championships. Their path to victory in Rockford included a quarterfinal match up against Philadelphia AMP (the top seed coming into Nationals, who beat Slow White at the 2016 Pro Flight Finale), a semifinal match up against Minneapolis Drag’n Thrust (the three-time defending national champions), and a finals match up against Connecticut Metro North (who beat Slow White in the 2016 Northeast Regional Championships final). In the face of these challenges, and after 13 years as a team and 12 consecutive years as a Nationals contender, Slow White took home their first national championship title by staying true to their unique brand of weird.

Slow White formed in 2004 out of a Boston University summer league team, the Ozone Pilots. They have since built a strong foundation based on friendship and ultimate community connections, pulling together and growing their original team over the years. In 2005, their second season in existence, they qualified for Nationals and, so far, have a 12-year qualifying streak to their name. As the team continued their appearances at Nationals, they consistently assessed and reassessed how to maintain a high level of inclusiveness and a strong family feel, while also striving for the top.

Most club ultimate teams are familiar with the persistent challenge of balancing team friendships and a fun atmosphere with a highly competitive and successful roster. Some teams may opt for the friendship component first while others may look only for raw talent and skill to build a successful team. Slow White, however, seems to have found the secret recipe. It is difficult to tell where one begins and the other ends on the dominant, long-standing team that boasts such a tight-knit sense of inclusiveness.

Rosie Ano, one of Slow White’s longest-tenured players on the field at Nationals in 2016, captures the team’s balance well, “Slow White is a very special team where there is a nice balance of competitiveness where we all share the same goal of…achieving at the same level, but not at the cost of burning bridges or relationships with one another.”

Slow White continues to pride themselves on support of teammates as members of the family. Once a Slow White player, always a Slow White player – regardless of whether or not you play on the roster in a given year. Players often feel comfortable branching out to new ultimate experiences and, in many instances, return to Slow White after brief sojourns on other teams. In the words of new and veteran players alike, it is “the most supportive team I have played on.”

Slow White forms a tight-knit community of ultimate players dedicated to developing their own skills in order to build a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. A big contributor to their success is their ability to fully embrace one another’s quirks, instilling competitive ultimate with a contagious goofiness and joy for the game.

Ano also makes an apt comparison of her experience on the team as a “fairytale.” The team’s efforts and rewards recently and in years past have been magical, and Slow White proved that 13 is not such an unlucky number after all. As part of team building and Slow White’s unique brand of weird, all team members have dwarf names (a la Dopey, Happy and Sneezy) assigned collectively, and the camaraderie and team spirit extends much further than the starting seven.

A big part of Slow White’s community comes from beyond the rostered players in a given year, from those members who may be un-rostered for one reason or another. Not only is this team more than Slow White and the Seven Dwarves, it is much more than Slow White and the 27 Dwarves. For many years, previously rostered Slow White players have continued to contribute to the success of the team on and off the field by remaining a part of the team’s social environment and by taking on support roles as coaches, leadership, photographers and more.

Members such as Mike Miller and Corey Flynn, who dedicated countless hours to coaching throughout the 2016 season, and Alison Main, who flew to Rockford from California to photograph every step of the team’s Nationals experience, are just a few examples of this ongoing dedication. Co-captain Alex Trahey believes these alumni are an essential piece of the Slow White community. “They all mean such a huge amount to the team and the team culture.”

Slow White has come a long way from its first “Cinderella story” appearance at Nationals in 2005 as a second-year team. They added a number of big-name talents to their roster last year, some of whom came from the men’s and women’s divisions. Staying true to their welcoming and inclusive atmosphere, Slow White’s leadership was careful to pull in talent that could succeed in the mixed game. One of several talented roster additions for 2016, Rachael Westgate came to Slow White from Boston Brute Squad and shared that the transition to Slow White from the women’s division was easier than expected because of her new teammates, who were “way more supportive than I thought a…team could be.”

These new additions certainly put Slow White in a great position heading into the 2016 season, but it was really at the U.S. Open that the team realized just how good they could be. Trahey shared that winning the U.S. Open was exciting, but it “put a lot of really high expectations on us” that the team had to acknowledge and overcome in cases such as their Pro Flight Finale loss to AMP and regionals loss to Metro North. Co-captain Hannah Baranes explained how the leadership was “very deliberate in framing the season around development” so as to not fall into the trap of taking such a strong roster for granted.

While it is certainly true that a team can learn a lot from its losses, Slow White coach Marshall Goff said that “you can [also] learn a lot from winning.”

Goff began working with Slow White in 2010 and continues to play a big-picture strategy role for the team. He helped the team “lock out some of the peaks and valleys in order to perform” in the toughest situations and pinpointed strategic adjustments to overcome even the most challenging opponents. That includes a win over Seattle Mixtape at the U.S. Open last year, an opponent they lost to during pool play. By the time Slow White reached the finals, they were prepared to face a halftime deficit against Metro North with the determination to play and trust their brand of ultimate.

Not surprisingly, by the time they reached the championship game at Nationals, Slow White’s halftime huddle did not look like that of a team that was down in the finals. It looked like a group of (very athletic) friends happy to be playing ultimate together that was determined to keep doing so. And so they did.

Slow White’s style was strong for the remainder of the game, with visionary deep throws, unapologetic hammers, full-out defense and a strong sense of team cohesion. Appropriately, when asked what was different in the 2016 season compared to past years, Trahey said he would “like to attribute the [season] to us embracing our weirder side.”

The moral of this story: always trust in the weird.